Hamas and Negotiations

The US must begin talking to Hamas if it is serious about peace

A while back I wrote about the immense double-standard in Washington concerning the Taliban – with whom the US has recently begun negotiations – and Hamas – to whom the US and Israel continue to ignore.  The Taliban had a direct hand in the murder of over 3000 Americans while Hamas is involved a national resistance movement contained to the struggle to liberate Palestine – something the UN admits is a legitimate armed struggle.

There was the French Resistance during the Second World War, the American Resistance during the Revolutionary War and the Irgun Jewish militia group prior to Israeli independence.  This, of course, is not to say that Hamas is a good organization, but it limits itself to a national struggle.  And as such, it should be brought into negotiations with both the United States and Israel.  Moreover, due to the split in Palestinian politics, it is clear that any agreement between Israel and the PA will need to be agreed upon by Hamas.  Yet, the US, save for some indirect channels (“Hello President Carter, you silly anti-Semite, you!”) has refused to incorporate this important party into any sort of talks.

At least Newsweek can see the folly in such a stance.  Both Helena Cobban and Mondoweiss have already commented on the Newsweek articles published a few days ago, calling for Hamas to be brought into the current defunct talks.  Overall, the two articles – one interview and one article – demonstrate the moderation of the Islamic group.  The common perception in the West is that Hamas is simply a terrorist organization, funded by Iran, aiming at the complete destruction of Israel.  Reality, though, proves only one of these three claims to be true.

[tweetmeme] In the interview with Hamas leader-in-exile Khalid Meshaal, the Hamas leader does not deny receiving funding from Iran, but makes clear that, unlike American aid to the PA, Iranian money comes with no political preconditions.  Article 1, paragraph 4 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, a resistance movement is a group “in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes…”  Put another way, the terrorist classification of Hamas is completely a political move to delegitimize Hamas’ resistance of the Israeli occupation.

Moreover, while the outdated Hamas charter does call for the elimination of Israel, myriad interviews with many Hamas officials makes it clear that Hamas certainly accepts Israel’s right to exist, simply within 1967 borders.  Hamas rejects the occupation, not Israel.  This is once again clear in the Newsweek interview with Meshaal:

If Mr. Abbas somehow manages to get an agreement for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, is that something you would accept?

I can answer your theoretical question but this is not even expected to happen. There is a position and program that all Palestinians share. To accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital. With the right of return. And this state would have real sovereignty on the land and on the borders. And with no settlements…

Under what conditions or terms would you stop using violence?

I’m a physicist. And I believe in the equations of physics and mathematics. Therefore I respect the laws of math and physics because they’re direct. Very simply, there is occupation and it calls for resistance. When does resistance stop? When the occupation is finished.

It is pretty obvious that Israel will not willingly sit down with Hamas, but, perhaps more ignorantly, the US does not seem to be willing or able to take such a step that could bring a new and better aura to negotiations.  From the Newsweek article:

State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley says Hamas is excluding itself by its refusal to accept Israel’s existence and renounce violence. But the fact is that no one is in a hurry to bring Meshaal in. For one thing, U.S. officials don’t want to undermine Abbas, the man they view as the Palestinians’ most credible peacemaker. More than that, no one wants to reward Hamas’s intransigence, a move Abbas would surely see as a betrayal. And his response would be mild compared with Israel’s. “Even to suggest an opening to Hamas would blow every fuse in the Israeli political establishment,” says an administration official who asked not to be named discussing the politics of a U.S. ally. For that matter, Obama himself is facing enough domestic opposition without talking to terrorists. “The blowback here would be extreme,” says Robert Malley, a former member of President Clinton’s Mideast peace team now at the International Crisis Group.

Still, Meshaal sounds more moderate these days than he once did. Although he still calls for bigger concessions than Israel is likely to grant, they’re at least within the realm of rational discussion. “There is a position and program that all Palestinians share,” he tells NEWSWEEK. “To accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital. With the right of return. And this state would have real sovereignty, on the land and on the borders. And with no settlements.” This would fall far short of the drastic goals Hamas’s charter lays out, but Meshaal says his group would accept such an agreement if a majority of Palestinians approved it: “When this program is implemented…we would respect the will of the Palestinian people.” Paul Scham, one of the foremost U.S. experts on Hamas, says he believes that the group’s actual views have evolved away from its rabidly anti-Israel charter, and that Hamas is now prepared to act as Fatah’s silent partner in talks to achieve Palestinian statehood.

To overuse an analogy that has never really been used correctly, Hamas represents an opportunity like Nixon visiting China, or perhaps Sadat visiting Jerusalem.  Engaging Hamas on an official level would not only make strides towards breaking the Fatah-Hamas deadlock (“Definitely we realize that this division and this internal dispute hurts Hamas and the whole Palestinian cause,”) but it would also create an atmosphere in which a settlement could, possibly, be found.

Palestinians are in trouble.  Negotiations between the Fatah-led PA and Israel will not result in any reasonable settlement.  Continuing on such a flawed path is only demonstrating the will of Israel to not make peace and the inability (or unwillingness) of the US to push both sides closer to one.  Moreover, the continued isolation of Hamas is only increasing the political schisms in Palestine – a problem that is directly standing in the way of any functional Palestinian state.  Not to mention the disastrous effects America’s flawed West Bank first strategy is having on the people living in Gaza.

As the American-backed peace talks flounder like a fish out of water, US President Obama must make a bold decision to change course.  Invite Israeli PM Netanyahu, Palestinian President Abbas and Mashaal to Washington.  Bring Hamas into the equation.  If the world continues to ignore Hamas, Obama will go down in history as a President who might have had good intentions, but lacked the courage to make real steps towards peace.

Photo from Paldf

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5 thoughts on “Hamas and Negotiations

  1. The politics of Olmert and Tzipi seemed to have paralyzed Netanyahu and his fascist government… Which may have been welcomed either way since Netanyahu is not a peacemaker, let alone a human being.
    Now, imagine if Israel and the U.S. would decide to make another political move and recognize Hamas as a legitimate partner in this “peace process”? It would be political suicide for Netanyahu and totally undermine the Abbas-Fayad-PA and their West Bank dreams.
    Also, I strongly believe that listing some resistance group as a terrorist organization has serious national and international security consequences. It seemed so easy post-911, but now every government from the U.S. to Colombia are rethinking their strategies (something I still highly doubt though).
    I’m sure Hamas and U.S.-ISR are involved in negotiations through some indirect line of communication, but there is no way-ever that Hamas will ever be welcomed into negotiations. It’s all spectacles for Americans and Israelis. The failure of today’s “peace process” was evident on the assault on Gaza and Obama’s silence, let alone his AIPAC appeal visit to Sderot.
    However, I wish this was not the case, but as a realist in practice this “peace process” is yet another farce. Political stagecraft at its best. Hillary is probably ashamed of herself again, knowing how many problems have overshadowed the administration at home, she was just another strategic move. And Mitchel is tired of his nine to five.
    I believe the only way we could have reached a peace deal would have been through a perfect picture at the White House after a meeting led by Obama, Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad, Erdogan, al-Assad, Meshaal, Abbas, Nasrallah, and maybe Prince Faisal. Instead of the one on my facebook profile.

    sorry i cant fully elaborate. im in a hurry, but i just wanted to leave a couple of comments after skimming through your post.

    1. Thanks for the note – a pretty loaded one, but a good one! A couple of thoughts:
      – Olmert and Livni are not the problems here. They are not actively helping the cause, but there isn’t much they can do with Bibi at the helm.
      – As helpful as it would be, recognizing Hamas in negotiations would be political suicide for anyone in Israel, the WB or the US.
      – Hamas does have some indirect channels to Washington and even wrote a letter (Meshaal did) to Obama
      – The entire American Middle East policy is ineffective. Blame Hillary, Mitchell, whomever. Just get a new policy
      – I agree, a comprehensive peace plan is the most efficient way to dead with the Middle East. Problem is, Israel has never wanted a comprehensive peace plan. Rather has historically – still true today – wanted to deal with the region country by country.

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